Fixtures in Europe against tough opposition will be crucial for Hoffenheim’s development – even if results do not always go their way, writes Martin Whiteley.
The Women’s Champions League was expanded to allow more clubs the opportunity to sample the magic of European football nights – and one side that’s taken their chance with both hands is Hoffenheim.
We have recently seen a number of sides fast-track themselves to the top flight by merging with a club that was already there.
Interestingly Hoffenheim — like Borussia Dortmund have done recently too — started their journey in the German lower leagues back in 2007 and steadily worked their way up, before finally achieving promotion to the Frauen-Bundesliga in 2013.
Although they slumped to a 3-1 defeat by champions, and current league leaders, Bayern Munich at the weekend, they have made great strides in the league. In last season’s corresponding fixture, Hoffenheim came back from 2-0 down to stun the hosts 3-2 – the only loss Bayern suffered in the league on their way to claiming the title.
Despite the increased challenges faced by all to get the 2019-20 season completed, Hoffenheim managed to achieve their best league placing of third. Sadly, that year the position earned the club nothing but personal pride. However, being able to repeat the same feat last season not only brought acclaim but the need to locate their passports.
Despite continued success for Hoffenheim, less than a handful of their players were snapped up by Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich. That meant the majority of the squad remained together – and that included their main goal threat.
Nicole Billa not only led the team in scoring with 23 league goals last term but the whole Frauen-Bundesliga. The 25-year-old needs only a glimpse of the target to find the back of the net and the club was ecstatic when she signed a contract extension up to 2023 back in January. The Austria striker was also recently named Women’s Footballer of the Year in Germany.
The acquisition of Tine De Caigny from Anderlecht and Hungary forward Petra Kocsan will hopefully give Hoffenheim more alternatives in the scoring department. She bagged 22 goals for last season’s Belgium champions and was the latest recipient of the Belgian women’s footballer of the year award.
As well as being a box-to-box player, De Caigny can also now operates as an out-and-out striker. Kocsan joined from MTK Hungaria Budapest and is good technically with an eye for a pass.
The European adventure for Hoffenheim began with a visit to Zurich. It proved to be a fruitful starting point for them as Valur of Iceland and fellow newcomers AC Milan were dispatched in Round 1 of the Champions League without even the concession of a goal. It was also no surprise that it was Billa who scored their first competitive goal on foreign soil.
Experienced European participants Rosengard stood between Hoffenheim and the inaugural group stage. A 3-0 win in Sweden put the German side in control of the tie, before a thrilling second leg saw them advance 6-3 on aggregate.
As debutants, Hoffenheim were placed in Pot 3 and paired with holders Barcelona and former UEFA Women’s Cup winners Arsenal. Fellow first-timers HB Koge of Denmark made up the quartet in Group C.
Ahead of their opening group game at home against HB Koge, coach Gabor Gallai, who had signed a contract extension back in April to keep him at the club until 2025, had admitted they had not set the side any goals. Experience and further development were the key ingredients to be taken out of this season’s European exploits.
If only the weather had got the memo about how special a night it was in the history of Hoffenheim but, despite it being a miserable rainy evening, the German side shone as they triumphed 5-0.
The addition of European fixtures brings with it a hectic schedule. Hoffenheim now face a tricky run of games that would be a severe test for even the most battle-hardened of sides. First up on Thursday is a Champions League visit to Arsenal, who beat Everton 3-0 in their WSL clash at the weekend, before they welcome Wolfsburg three days later.
The opportunity of regular match-ups both at home and abroad with quality teams should not be underestimated for clubs like Hoffenheim.
It may not always be plain sailing and there will be bumps along the way. The important thing is that their development continues in a positive arc, and they get to see what it takes to reach the very top.
Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin